After connecting through the Carlson MBA program, two students are cultivating a start-up that integrates intelligent components of military equipment to create bags and accessories. Fidelis, a Marine motto meaning "faithful," combines elements borne from tactical gear with urban aesthetics to create rugged products for customers with a love for adventure.

Full-Time MBA student Tim O’Neil founded Fidelis as he transitioned from the Marine Corps to civilian life in 2012. At the outset, he sold items that aligned with his own tastes and needs. But when the opportunity arose for him to join the Carlson MBA program, he saw his chance to bring strategic grounding to the venture.

Meanwhile, Brandon Jernigan began the Full-Time MBA program to sharpen his business expertise in hopes of someday leading a creative venture. Jernigan earned an undergraduate degree in finance, and began his career in management consulting and advertising. He then leveraged his business background to launch a photography and art direction business. Jernigan joined the Carlson School community to realize his goal of merging his passions.   

“I wanted to find a way to mash up my entrepreneurial interests with my business background and the MBA at Carlson was a perfect opportunity to do that,” says Jernigan. “If you’re entrepreneurial minded, Carlson provides plenty of resources that you can lean on to see if your ideas have some merit.”

O’Neil and Jernigan connected through the MBA program, and soon realized their shared interest in entrepreneurship. The self-described “gear junkies” teamed up through the STARTUP class, offered by the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, to develop a long-term plan for Fidelis. STARTUP, a component of the Minnesota Innovation Corps, places students face-to-face with potential customers to examine whether their idea, concept, or invention meets its target audience’s expectations. 

Fidelis products

“Through the more formal apparatus of the STARTUP class, it really helped us identify where we want to be five years from now,” says O’Neil.

STARTUP encouraged the students to gather insights from their customers and to operate as nimbly as possible – put the “minimum viable product” out into the marketplace, gather feedback, and iterate and improve. For Marine Corps veteran O’Neil, the process comes naturally.

“In the service, we used the term 80 percent solution, which to me, in this new language, sounds like minimum viable product: The ability to be comfortable with things that aren’t perfect, then executing and evolving on those ideas,” he says.

Beyond the STARTUP class, O’Neil and Jernigan consistently draw from lessons from the MBA program to address tough challenges they face in leading Fidelis.

“Our brand management class has been very insightful as we rebranded the company in January,” says Jernigan. “I took a persuasion and influence class that was very powerful and there were major takeaways from my corporate strategy class. It’s interesting to reflect on all the coursework and while we may not think at the time it’s useful, in reality it actually is.”

Fidelis products are now available in the Twin Cities, Seattle, Chicago, and Detroit, with more retailers being added now.

Check out this video for more on Fidelis